Thanksgivukkah: Never Before, Never Again
An anomaly in the Jewish calendar has resulted in the first day of Chanukah coinciding with Thanksgiving Day. Foodies are going wild, concocting delicacies combining the trademark foods of each holiday, and a few mom-and-pop entrepreneurs are selling “menurky’s” and t-shirts. Songsters are blending Chanukah favorites and Thanksgiving ballads in preparation for regaling their guests and for their own amusement.
If we are going to blend Jewish and American celebrations, no two holidays bear such fundamental similarities. Consider that the pilgrims who came to America’s shores on the Mayflower were in search of a place where they could live freely according to the tenets of their chosen faith. Thanksgiving is a celebration of the liberties we have as Americans, a primary one being religious freedom.
Chanukah celebrates the victory of the minority Maccabbees over the majority Greek population. It is the anti-assimilation holiday – the Maccabbees refused to submit to Hellenistic practices. Today, in the Diaspora, in the shadow of Christmas, our Chanukah celebrations enable us to assert our American right to be different, to celebrate our Judaism proudly and publically.
Many Jewish families already have melded some Jewish foods and traditions into Thanksgiving. I know a family whose appetizers include chopped liver (with soup and fish being other options). Others begin the Thanksgiving meal with Kiddush and motzi adding a Jewish spiritual dimension to the celebration. I have no doubt that the post-holiday social media postings will be filled with photos and stories of never-before-thought-about foods and activities.
Giving thanks for the Jewish American experience and the freedoms we enjoy is at the heart of both the Thanksgiving and Hanukkah celebrations. We can add the shehechiyanu* to the Turkey-cutting rituals. Never before and never again will we give thanks to G-d in quite the same way.
* The shehechiyanu is a prayer recited by Jews when experiencing something for the first time ever or the first time during a season: Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu, Melech Haolam, shehechiyanu, vekiyimanu, vehigiyanu lazman hazeh. Blessed are you our G-d, sovereign of the Universe, who has given us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this moment in time.